Greatest Dead Angelenos #20: Busby Berkeley

I should have forgotten you long ago, but you’re in every song I know


images from Dames (1934).

Busby Berkeley‘s work speaks for itself. His choreography is, even by today’s standards, grandiose. I think it is that much more impressive, considering his best pieces were made during the Great Depression.

Busby Berkeley the man, however, needs a bit of an introduction. William Berkeley Enos was born in Los Angeles back in 1895. Although he began his career on Broadway, he came back to Hollywood once talkies hit the scene.

Like all legendary Hollywood directors, he had his fair share of scandal and controversy. He went through six wives, and was engaged in a fatal car accident which had him charged with, tried for, and eventually acquitted of second-degree murder. Eat your heart out, Phil Spector.

He died in Palm Springs in 1976. He is buried out in Riverside.

[Videos after the jump!]
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Greatest Dead Angelenos #23: Karen Carpenter

goodbye Hollywood, goodbye Downey

Growing up in Downey was like living with the ghost of Karen Carpenter. My mom, a fan of their music, had a few LPs which she’d occasionally play, but I was never particularly interested. She was just this angelic voice I heard on the weekends, softly playing in the other room while my brother and I played Nintendo.

It was not until I heard Sonic Youth’s album Goo during my middle school days that I started paying any attention to the Carpenters. “Tunic (Song for Karen)” wasn’t just Kim Gordon singing about our hometown hero; she actually mentioned Downey by name! Incredibly cool, I thought. I started listening to my mother’s albums, learned all the songs by heart. As a burgeoning wee feminist, I thought Karen was really cool–she sang better than Joni Mitchell, and I thought the drums were way cooler than the piano.

Every time Christmas rolled around, my mom insisted we get in the car and go look at the neighbors’ decorations. That year, when we drove down one of the neighborhood streets, my mom squealed, “That’s where the Carpenters live!” Even though she said that every year, I finally really heard it. I took a good look at the house: nice decorations. A large-ish home, like the other houses on the block. I wondered what kinds of things that house had seen.
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Greatest Dead Angelenos #24: Howard Hawks

hawkshowardbio.jpgIn a town that was practically built on the motion picture industry, Howard Hawks was perhaps one of the most influential film directors of all time. His films spanned multiple genres and nearly all were noteworthy. He was one of the few in Hollywood to successfully make the transition from silents to talkies, and over his forty-five year career he worked with several of the greats and made many of the movies we now consider classics.

Hawks trivia: He infamously remade Rio Bravo – his own film – twice, first as El Dorado and again as Rio Lobo. All three incarnations starred John Wayne.

Hawks’ most fascinating characteristic (at least as far as I’m concerned) was his determination to create a star. According to Lauren Bacall, whom Hawks discovered, he wanted to create a very specific sort of girl and chose her to make over into that girl. He changed her name, changed her hair, fictionalized her history, and taught her to always pose with her chin down, a look she became famous for. She also claims that he gave up on her when she failed to maintain the air of mystery he needed and married Humphrey Bogart. Of course that might all be apocryphal, but whether he ever created an actress, he certainly created a character archetype: the tough, fast-talking dame epitomized by Rosalind Russell in His Girl Friday. His contribution to the screwball comedy genre, the incomparable Bringing Up Baby, includes the screwy version of that character, as portrayed by Katharine Hepburn.

Though born in Indiana, Hawks and his family moved to Southern California when he was a small child, and he attended Glendora High School. He died in Palm Springs in 1977 after a bad fall; he was cremated and his ashes were scattered in the desert near Calimesa.

Sources: Wikipedia – Howard Hawks; Hawksian Woman | By Myself by Lauren Bacall | Find A Grave

See the rest of the 25 Greatest Dead Angelenos .

Greatest Dead Angelenos #25: Father Juan Crespi

crespi1.jpgOn August 2, 1769, Friar Juan Crespi (1721-1782), a diarist with the first European land expedition through California wrote in his journal of a beautiful river that he named, “El Rio de Nuestra Senora la Reyna de Los Angeles de Porciuncula,” or “The River of Our Lady the Queen of the Angels of the Small Parcel.” Ironically, while the name was shortened to “Los Angeles”, the “small parcel” would grow into the second largest city in the United States.

Juan Crespi’s mark on the city goes further, as he was also one of the leaders of the expedition that would blaze a trail known as El Camino Real through California, that freeway bound Angelenos will recognize as the roadside bells that commemorate its path.

Buried at the Mission San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo in Carmel, Encino’s Crespi Carmelite High School is named in his honor.

sources: LA Almanac, LA Avenue, Wikipedia. Image from

L.A.’s Greatest Dead Angelenos – The Guide

ramone.jpgThis week Metroblogging Los Angeles will count down twenty-five of the most notable, influential, and otherwise greatest individuals who have left their mark on the City of Angels before passing on to another plane of existence.

The list was chosen in a most unscientific group blog fashion that goes from controversial personal picks to a judiciously chosen handful of selections. While some of the Dead Angelenos who you’ll read about may seem like unconventional choices, they represent a broad interpretation of what makes one great. Especially with a project like this, there will be individuals excluded, not due to any other factor than the sheer subjectiveness of the editorial process (which, if you know the Metroblogging principal, essentially means no editorial process at all).

That said, I’ll let the selections speak for themselves, and, at the conclusion of the project, encourage other bloggers or commenters to make the case for other deceased Angelenos who should have made the list.

In the meantime, keep checking back here at as we unveil five of L.A. Greatest Dead Angelenos every day, through Friday.

Free free to bookmark this entry, which will link to each entry shortly after they appear.
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